September 17 bye-elections
By CIRP Team
With 44 candidates contesting for NA-120, the stage is set for September 17 bye-election on the National Assembly seat which fell vacant after the disqualification of the Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on the orders of Supreme Court in July this year.
Besides independent candidates and other small parties, mainstream political parties including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP or PPP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have fielded their candidates for the bye-election.
However, a tough contest is expected between PML-N and PTI and there is reason for that. The NA-120 has traditionally been a stronghold of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)–more particularly of Nawaz Sharif himself. However, over the years PTI has emerged the second strongest political party in this constituency. Earlier it used to be PPP.
PTI has fielded Dr Yasmin Rashid who had contested against Nawaz Sharif on the same seat in the 2013 general elections while PML-N’s candidate is Begum Kalsoom Nawaz–wife of the former premier and this is for the first time she is contesting the elections.
The 2013 general elections witnessed PTI as a strong opponent when Dr Yasmin Rashid bagged 52,354 votes–35% of the total votes. Nawaz Sharif was victorious with 91,683 votes while PPP candidate Zubair Kardar could secure only 2,605 votes.
The total turnout of the voters was 52%. While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) data does not bifurcate this turnout in terms of gender, it is generally observed that female voters’ turnout is lower than the male voters. This fact has been confirmed in a report “Women and the 2013 General Elections” of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).
However, an increased turnout of female voters is expected in the upcoming bye-election as the two key contestants are females this time. It is also in this backdrop, there is prevailing perception that the candidate approaching and convincing the female voters to vote during the ongoing canvassing will have added advantage.
The fact that all the PML-N candidates had won the Local Government Elections 2015 on Union Councils (UCs) falling in this constituency makes it easier to understand PML-N’s hegemony in the area.
There are a total of (UCs) in NA-120. Two sides of the famous The Mall Road (from PMG office to Regal Chowk), Anarkali bazar, Hall Road, Urdu bazar, Bilal Ganj and Data Darbar and localities including Sant Nagar (now Sunnat Nagar), Krishan Nagar (now Islampura), Mozang, Ravi Road, Outfall Road, Rewaz Garden, Sanda,Kasurpura, Khokhar Town and Mominpura, Cooper Road and other adjoining areas fall in NA-120.
With the polling day approaching fast and political campaigning gaining maximum momentum, almost all localities in NA-120 wear a festive look with public gatherings and corner meetings taking place on daily basis. The party leaders are busy visiting and revisiting the areas while local leadership doing door-to-door canvassing.
Since the PML-N candidate Begum Kalsoom Nawaz is in UK for her treatment, her daughter–also a central leader of the party Maryam Nawaz is heading the campaign by holding public gatherings in different UCs on almost daily basis.
While PTI’s Dr Yasmin Rashid herself leading the campaign and busy in door-to-door canvassing, the party’s chief Imran Khan recently also addressed a public gathering at Qartaba Chowk in Lahore on September 08.
On August 31, Maryam Nawaz also addressed a women workers’ convention urging the workers to mobilize the female voters. The same is being dubbed as a significant development keeping in view low turnout of female voters in the past.
What the party leaders and supporters say
Farrukh Habib, PTI’s central deputy secretary general, alleges PML-N of pre-poll rigging by carrying out development works in the constituency ahead of polls. “They neglected the area in the past but now using all resources including public machinery to fool the public.” He, however, added the voters had the realization of the same and would respond through the power of their vote.
Farrukh further said PTI was doing very effective campaign. “Women have very important role in elections and the party is seeking their support in door-to-door campaign. We are also doing telephonic campaign,” he added.
Shahab Basharat, PML-N’s Chairman of the UC-58, denies the allegations of pre-poll rigging and terms the same ‘a political statement’. He said the development works were continuing as per routine and meanwhile the bye-polls were announced. “This has in fact left us helpless,” he added.
As many as two provincial assembly seats, PP-140 and PP-139 fall in NA-120 constituency area. Both have 9 and 12 UCs, respectively. “We are doing vigorous door-to-door campaign,” Shahab said and added “I see a one-sided result with PML-N bagging maximum votes.”
Ismail Butt, a PPP worker and chief campaigner from Krishan Nagar area says “The situation in NA-120 is entirely different from 2013 general elections.” He added his party was doing massive campaign and has approached each worker and supporter in the constituency.
“I support Imran Khan as he has brought a corrupt to justice”, says Tanvir Akhtar, a PTI supporter in NA-120, while referring to the ouster of former premier on the apex court orders in the Panama Case. According to him those who had vested interests were siding with the PML-N. “I want change and that’s why I’m supporting PTI.”
However, supporters and voters of PML-N, believe their party would win the elections. They cite historical evidence in this regard and loyalty of locals to Nawaz Sharif who always won the elections from this constituency. Ch Asif, Javed Butt and others believe their party was following a great economic agenda to put the country on road of progress and prosperity.
For Rahat, Milli Muslim League candidate is the best choice. “In any calamity or natural disaster you will see these people as the first responders. I know, this candidate is not going to win but at least I will have the satisfaction that my vote did not go waste.”
It is pertinent to mention here that the ECP has already refused to recognize Milli Muslim League—a political front of Jamaatud Dawa as a legitimate political party and has warned electoral candidates not to use the party’s name in election campaigns.
For the first time, ECP will be conducting biometric verification of the voters at 39 polling stations in NA-120 as a pilot project. Below are brief details on NA-120 voters and related details.
Split of vote
The split of vote because of candidates from other parties is being viewed as advantage and disadvantage to the two main contesting parties i.e., PML-N and PTI. The polling day will, however, reveal which party took advantage of the split vote. However, it is the female vote which is going to decide the winner this time.